Morale among government workers in Baltimore County has been at a low ebb since last February, when County Executive Roger Hayden cut 566 municipal positions from the rolls and laid off 392 job-holders. Even for those employees who escaped the budget ax last winter, surviving hasn't seemed all that great. Not only have they found their workloads increased, they also have worried that the ax could yet fall on them.
Certainly that was the mood among the roughly two dozen mechanics and clerks at the county's central garage in Towson. They fretted for eight months about the possibility that their operation would be privatized, forcing them onto the unemployment line. But then Mr. Hayden personally informed them last week that his administration has decided against the privatization plan. Baltimore County will continue to run the garage.
This came as good news to the garage employees. They get to keep their jobs and they can now suggest improvements for the operation without the fear that their ideas would eventually be snatched up by a private firm seeking to take over the garage. Morale, at least among this group of county workers, should improve.
County residents also should be heartened by the way the Hayden administration handled the matter. After soliciting an informal proposal from a private Montgomery County-based firm, Baltimore County officials determined that the local government could provide the same service for $200,000 less than what the firm had bid.
While trimming budgetary fat and trying to get the government out of chores it lacks the wherewithal to perform, Mr. Hayden has viewed privatization as an appealing option. Indeed, it's doubtful that the planned DWI jail in Owings Mills would ever have moved beyond the planning stage if a private company hadn't come through with a proposal that spares the county any of its costs.
Privatization isn't a panacea for what ails cash-strapped, overburdened governments. Yet it should always be a potential course for officials as long as the private bid and the public cost for a particular service are carefully compared.
The Hayden administration acted with just that sort of prudence in the central garage situation. The executive could have succumbed to the temptation of letting the garage become some private firm's headache. That he didn't, in the process saving money for taxpayers and jobs for county workers, is to his credit.